The American lawyer of an Indian facing drug trafficking charges in the United States (US) alongside two sons of slain Kenyan drug baron Ibrahim Akasha and a Pakistani has said Kenya’s sovereignty was violated when the four suspects were moved to the United States on Monday.
Mr Daniel Arshack, who is representing Vijaygiri “Vicky” Goswami, also said the Akasha brothers – Baktash and Ibrahim – may be confined for several months awaiting trial, which may not begin until early next year due to the complexity of the case.
Mr Arshack spoke in New York on Thursday as lawyers George Wajackoya and Cliff Ombeta were involved in a bitter exchange at a press conference at the Sarova Panafric hotel in Nairobi, both saying they are representing the Akasha siblings.
Due process protections, the rule of law and Kenya’s sovereignty were violated in the transfer of the four drug-trafficking defendants to the US, argued Mr Arshack.
Mr Baktash Akasha, Mr Ibrahim Akasha, Mr Goswami and Pakistani Gulam Hussein are being held without bail at a jail in New York City.
“They were subject to rendition, not extradition,” declared Mr Arshack, adding that the four “were packed onto a plane and ended up in New York.
“They were in the middle of an extradition process. It’s a blow to the sovereignty of the country from where they were taken.”
Mr Arshack suggested that authorities in Kenya and the US abandoned the extradition proceedings because they feared that the judicial effort to have the four flown to the US was going to fail.
“This situation is about as extreme as we’ve ever seen,” said Mr Arshack, a Manhattan-based attorney with expertise in international criminal justice.
He added that US Justice Department officials involved in arranging the “rendition” were probably holdovers from the Obama administration.
The lawyer suggested, however, that the inauguration of President Donald Trump may have spurred those officials to organise the sudden transfer of the four to New York.
“I’m not saying Trump decided one night, ‘Let’s get those boys in Kenya,’” Mr Arshack said. “But it’s not much of a stretch to think people in law enforcement who, perhaps, would have previously declined to cross the line in respecting due process and the rule of law might feel enabled to do that now.”
Despite the circumstances of the four men’s removal from Kenya, US attorneys will have little legal recourse in responding to the “rendition”, Mr Arshack said. A US court is unlikely to act on whatever complaints defence attorneys might make about the transfer, he added.
The four defendants face charges over importation of heroin and methamphetamines to the US. Conviction on all counts could result in life imprisonment for each one of them.
The accused may be confined for several months awaiting trial, Mr Arshack said, noting that the complexity of the case could result in the trial not getting under way until early next year.
US prosecutors charge that Mr Baktash, 40, is the head of an international narcotics ring, deputised by his brother Ibrahim, 28, while Mr Goswami served as the manager of an international narcotics ring and Mr Hussein, 61, the head of the Akasha family’s drug transportation network.
Mr Wajackoya had invited the media so as to speak on the “rendition” of the suspects. But even before the briefing started, Mr Ombeta, who had been at the Milimani Law Courts for a different case, arrived and said the former had no right to speak on the case as he had been sacked by all the suspects.
The two then had a bitter altercation, with Mr Wajackoya maintaining that he was representing one of the suspects and that he had not received any court order or other document showing that he had been sacked.
“Mr Ombeta is just an abuser and an attention seeker,” said Mr Wajackoya. “I have no disengagement as far as I am concerned and my friend here is just being bitter since he knows several things have gone wrong in this case because he cannot handle it.”
But Mr Ombeta said the lawyers representing the Akashas had not given instructions to Mr Wajackoya to give a statement on their behalf and had not been informed of any press conference.
“He was sacked right before the other two lawyers involved in this matter on January 25 after the suspects and their families found him to be incompetent,” Mr Ombeta claimed.
Mr Ombeta added that Mr Wajackoya wanted to comment on the matter without the knowledge of the two rightful lawyers – himself and Mr Kirathe Wandugi – despite the families of the suspects having blocked him from having any association with the case.
As the two lawyers quarrelled, a member of the Akasha family, Ms Rumia Akasha, called Mr Ombeta and asked him to call off the press conference.
“Mr Wajackoya has no role in this case and he is not authorised to say anything about it, and so I kindly ask everyone to disregard anything he says,” Ms Akasha said on the telephone.
After a lengthy exchange, Mr Ombeta moved aside and asked Mr Wajackoya to speak.
Mr Wajackoya said he was making the press statement as a lawyer representing Mr Hussein.
“I have been the lawyer for Mr Gulam Hussein and I wanted to hold the government accountable for the extradition of the suspects,” said Mr Wajackoya. “The President had promised that no Kenyan should be taken outside the country for trial.
“We, the lawyers, have done our best to secure their release but our inputs were disregarded.”
He said Mr Hussein had not formally told him that he did not want to be represented by him, adding that they were in court in Mombasa on January 26 concerning the matter.
And speaking at their home in the upmarket Mombasa suburb of Nyali, the mother of the Akasha brothers, Ms Fatma Akasha, accompanied by family members, said they had not received any communication from the authorities regarding her sons.
“We do not know what will happen to my sons, now that they are in the US,” said Ms Akasha as she wept. “We want those involved to tell us why they have taken them there, and if they have done anything let them be brought back here and face trial here in Kenya.”